Pastel Experiment: Oil Stain Underpainting!

Hello again my creative friends!

The weather hasn’t been very nice here lately, and I’ve been feeling a bit cooped up. When I feel cooped up, I get a little restless and bored. And when I become restless and bored, I get the urge to shake things up, artistically speaking.  🙂

So….guess what has been flying around my studio recently? 


Yes, indeed. I decided to do some experimenting with oil stain underpainting using oil paints, of course, as well as odorless mineral spirits. 

Now I have done many underpaintings using watercolor, pastels washed in with rubbing alcohol, and even acrylic inks, but I have never used oils in an underpainting.

Why? Well, I had a bias in my mind that oil paints were just generally stinky, messy, and difficult to work with.


To that end, I gathered my supplies: primary colors of oil paint (yellow, blue, and red), an old bristle brush, Gamblin’s Gamsol (odorless mineral spirits), a jar, a cheap plastic palette, and a paper towel.



To make my experiment even more meaningful, I decided I also wanted to see how the oil stain would react with some of the more popular sanded pastel papers that I like to use.

So I hinge-mounted my chosen pastel papers to some foam core on my upright easel.

For this experiment I decided to try out the following papers:
Pastel Premier, Uart 400, and Fisher 400.

(Tip: Some papers like Sennelier’s Lacarte will absolutely NOT work well with any kind of wet underpainting, so do a test on a small scrap if you are unsure how a paper might respond!)

Top: Pastel Premier and Uart 400; Bottom: Fisher 400 and Pastel Premier

Then, using vine charcoal, I sketched some simple scenes onto the papers.

For the actual underpainting, I loosely applied a thin mixture of oil paint, thinning the paint liberally with the mineral spirits to the consistency of tea. Keeping the mixture thin is important.
If the mixture is too thick, it will decrease the “tooth” available on the paper and not allow it to grab the pastel when I apply it in the future.


First of all, the paper made a HUGE DIFFERENCE in how the final underpainting looked.

Specifically, the Pastel Premier paper allowed all these really cool spider-webby effects to happen (see the upper left and bottom right in the photo above).

Here is a close-up of what I mean….Isn’t that cooooool???!!!

Close-up of spider webbing on Pastel Premier sanded paper


I was also pleasantly surprised at the effects I achieved with the Fisher 400 paper. I would describe the drips and webbing as finer and less dramatic than those on the Pastel Premier paper, but still neat! 

Here is a closer look:

Oil stain on Fisher 400


But the biggest surprise and disappointment….my beloved UART paper!

I actually became frustrated at how the paper accepted the oil staining…. I can only describe it as very “fuzzy”.
No wonderful drips or webbing like on the other two papers.

However, if I was looking for a very soft, diffuse-focused underpainting, oil stain on UART would be my go-to.
Take a look:

Oil stain on UART 400


Here is a side-by-side comparison of the Pastel Premier vs. UART.
The difference is dramatic!

Same oil stain mixture applied to Pastel Premier (left) and UART 400 (right)


The whole point of an doing an underpainting is to provide a head start on the actual painting. It gives the artist something to respond to that isn’t “precious” and also helps get past all that pristine paper.

With that in mind, in my next post I will share how I used one of the underpaintings above as a foundation for a pastel painting. 

Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read about my artistic adventures. I hope you enjoyed seeing my little experiment and would love to know what your favorite underpainting technique is.

Till next time!


Fall Color in Pastel!

Welcome creative friends! I hope you are all enjoying Autumn. It’s come rather late to our area. I took the photo below last week, and our trees only began losing their leaves a few days ago!

Since autumn has lingered in our area, I wanted to take the opportunity to gather up some inspiration from the color that surrounded me. But how? I haven’t had any time to paint, but I did have time to do a little color research.

Ever notice how the color of leaves can look so very different depending on how they are lit? Well, I wanted to record some of these observations….so here’s what I did.

First, I gathered up a variety of leaf specimens from a few trees in full color.

Here are a few of the leaves: these are from Japanese maple, oak, and tulip trees.

Next, I took photos of the leaves held up to the light as if they were being lit by the sun. Then I took photos without this backlight. In the photo below you can really see how the leaf’s color is dramatically changed by being lit!

Not backlit

Once I had my photos, I took a little time to select pastels in colors and values that I saw represented in the leaves under the various lighting conditions.

I used those pastels to make color swatches on white index cards, along with the tree’s identification for future reference. Then I enclosed the cards in self-laminating sheets to protect them.

Here are a few examples!

I loved this idea because it not only got me playing with fall color, but it was a great way to see if my pastel selection was up to the challenge of some autumn painting!

Let me know if you try this!

Till next time, stay creative friends!